EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Kinning and de-kinning: kinship practices between "parental figures", "reproductive collaborators" and children among new family configurations
Location U6-8
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Alice Sophie Sarcinelli (Université de Liège) email
  • Corinna Sabrina Guerzoni (University of Milano-Bicocca) email

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Short Abstract

The panel invites scholars working on contemporary forms of familyhood and parenthood (LGBT families, adoptions, step-families) to reconsider classic theories, unsolved questions and key issues within the history of anthropology of kinship, namely the notions of "kinning" and "de-kinning".

Long Abstract

The development of ARTs (Assisted Reproductive Technologies) as well as social and juridical changes within family structures renewed processes of production of children, of family reproduction, as well as kinship practices. Such phenomena bring fundamental concerns of anthropology of kinship, once again, at the centre of attention. Contemporary forms of familyhood and parenthood (increasing complexity parental figures and progenitor with the presence of biological parents, adoptive parents, donors, birthmothers, surrogate mothers, and social parents) brings us to question on classic theories, concepts and legacies of this field, reconsidering the very notion of kinning (Howell 2006), counter-balanced by that of de-kinning (Fonseca 2011). What is a "kin relation" based on?

This panel aims to bring together scholars working on different families configurations (LGBT families, adoptions, step-families) who are often taken separately. Doing so, we hope to discuss of methodological, theoretical and epistemological issues involved in their researches, as well of the unsolved questions and key issues within the history of this field. How do research findings enable to re-shape and sharpen general concepts (i.e. parent, mother, kin, and so on)? Ethnographical studies of new forms of parenting might show how - in various contexts and within different family configurations - kin connections are represented, constructed or deconstructed. What are individual and family strategies of "kinning" for lack of "biological" and "juridical" ties and "de-kinning" when they were at the origin of the material production of the baby, but are not implied in the process of parenting ?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Kinning, 'de-kinning' and 'pluri-parenthood': a French example

Author: Agnès Martial (National Center for Scientific Research)  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates the value of the concept of « pluri-parenthood » in describing and analyzing the redefinition of gender relationships and parenthood related to new forms of family life. We will specifically investigate the example of French stepfamilies.

Long Abstract

This paper will focus on the concept of « pluri-parenthood » in the study of contemporary forms of families (stepfamilies, adoptive families, families built upon Assisted Reproductive Technologies). We will show that this notion allows, in an anthropological and comparative perspective, the description and analysis of different issues that arise in these families about gender, kinship and parenthood.

The notion of « pluri-parenthood » can be applied to diverse configurations that we consider together as producing situations where studying filiations' links (maternal and paternal, only maternal or only paternal) is not sufficient to describe the entire constellation of relationships, actions and actors involved in a child's story.

The contemporary forms of « pluri-parenthood » are characterized by different dimensions, set inside different temporalities of family life and children's stories: the intention of becoming a parent and the quest for « origins », which correspond to the time of « engendering »; the experience of daily parenthood, in the time of childhood, and the action of transmitting (a name, a heritage) which is embedded within the concept of generations. We will specifically examine the case of French stepfamilies to explore how gender relationships, in daily life and through generations, tend to produce situations of additive filiations on the paternal side of the children's kinship.

Family (law) assemblages: new modes of being (Legal)

Authors: Mariano Croce (Sapienza - Università di Roma)  email
Frederik Swennen (University of Antwerp)  email

Short Abstract

By exploring fragmenting motherhood, the paper contends that the current State approach to kinship should be reimagined as cont(r)actualisation, whereby the State accommodates kinship categories that the law-users themselves produce and that they actively revise when negotiating state recognition.

Long Abstract

Despite fundamental changes in the legal regulation of family formations, radical and queer critics still charge state policy frameworks with favouring legal constructs that are modelled on the traditional, archetypal family, based on integrated dyadic partnership and parenthood.

Consequently, the family law of most Western counties is beset by a widening gap between "kinship-in-the-books" (the nuclear family) and "kinship-in-action" (the unclear family).

By exploring the case of "fragmenting motherhood", we claim that this is a hurdle that cannot be overcome unless the state's approach to kinship phenomena is profoundly revised. We contend that the state should be reimagined as an anthropologist trying to bring to light the associations that are created by the law-users themselves, and that more flexible recognition schemes should serve as the anthropologist's notebook to record how law-users create law as they move through the interstices between recognition and unrecognition, how they provide new symbolic resources to confer speakability on what kinship-in-the-books has left unspeakable.

In this context, we advance the notion of cont(r)actualisation: the legal(-anthropological) activity of identifying points of contact where family formations are assembled, dis-assembled and re-assembled and then recognized via contractual forms that the state uses as an instrument to map a territory and to make people's lives liveable. We elaborate on a conception of state recognition as the capacity to trace connections and identify normative frameworks, which valorizes the self-organizing force of social practices but also holds onto the filtering role of the state.

At the edges of kinship: about the links that surrogacy builds

Author: Jerome Courduries (Universite Toulouse Jean Jaures)  email

Short Abstract

Surrogacy is indeed a medical technique and sometimes a commercial practice but is also a practice that establishes links between surrogate, intended parents and their child, at the edges of kinship. The data analysed were collected throughout research with 20 french intended parents.

Long Abstract

Surrogacy is the subject of many ethical, moral and political discussions. The important questions it raises, concerning the availability of the human body and the trade dimension of this practice in some states hide other issues that pique the curiosity of an anthropologist who is interested in kinship and definitions of the person. This communication will show that surrogacy is indeed a medical technique and sometimes a commercial practice but is also a practice that establishes links between surrogate, intended parents and their child, at the edges of kinship. The data analysed were collected throughout an ethnographic research in progress with 20 french intended parents.

'A friend, not the mother': affective and economic narratives in (de-)kinning relationships between surrogates and intended parents in the US

Author: Marcin Smietana (University of Cambridge, UK)  email

Short Abstract

Based on my qualitative research, I discuss how surrogates and intended parents in the US de-kin their relationships by means of contractual intentions and economic compensation, at the same time, however, kinning and de-commodifying these relationships by means of friendship.

Long Abstract

In commercial surrogacy in the US (as opposed to India or Russia), surrogates and parents often establish friendships, whereby surrogates resemble family friends or distant relatives, thus allowing to cautiously kin and so de-commodify their contractual relationships. Should this affective narrative of friendship fail, the relationships are de-kinned by legal contracts establishing that the initial intentions to be parents, in conjunction with the economic compensation given to the surrogate, determine parenthood.

Economics indeed may kin, as also in some gay father couples commissioning surrogacy embryos are created with the sperm of the one whose family of origin or productive work provide economic resources for reproduction. Most gay couples, however, prefer to implant two embryos, each with the sperm of one of the fathers, so as to co-opt the latent legal potential the genetic link has for kinning.

These findings show that through surrogacy in the US kinship ties are re-established in terms of the normative industrial society nuclear family, in agreement with other scholarship on ARTs (Thompson, 2005), adoption (Marre & Briggs, 2009), or lesbian and gay families (Pichardo Galán, 2009; Stacey, 2004). At the same time, these normative family scripts are also slowly changed by the transactional possibility of de-kinning the birth mother or kinning a second parent in a same-sex union.

I draw on a year and a half of qualitative research with ethnographic elements I carried out in the US, with twenty surrogate mothers and forty intended parents, within my postdoctoral project 'SurrogARTs' (www.surrogarts.eu)

Re-elaborating kin ties in transnational egg donation: the perspective of Turkish egg donors

Author: Burcu Mutlu (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents a case study of transnational egg donation from Turkey to Northern Cyprus from the perspective of Turkish egg donors by asking: How do these young women identify themselves as “not-mothers” (Almeling 2011), given social expectations and pressures on women to be “good mothers”?

Long Abstract

Transnational egg donation involves novel configurations of reproductive medicine, travel and exchange. Focusing on egg donors who embody the "supply side" of this phenomenon, this paper presents a case study of transnational egg donation between Turkey and Northern Cyprus. Since the late 1980s, In Vitro Fertilization has been accessible in Turkey only to married couples to create a child using their own gametes. All forms of third-party reproduction are strictly banned. Owing to the legal restrictions at home, increasing numbers of Turkish citizens with financial means are covertly travelling abroad, especially to neighboring Northern Cyprus, to access third-party reproductive services, predominantly anonymous egg donation. This emerging transnational reproductive travel from Turkey to Northern Cyprus involves the cross-border movement of not only Turkish couples seeking donated eggs but also young Turkish women donating their eggs. Based on observing egg donors' visits to one small privately-owned Northern Cypriot IVF clinic and conducting interviews with them, I explore the multiple meanings that young women who travel in secrecy for "cycling overseas" (Whittaker & Speier 2010) attribute to egg donation within the realities of their lives, and how they articulate notions of kinship in relation to "selling eggs," "helping" and "care-giving." This paper contributes to the emerging anthropological literature on "reproductive tourism" by exploring transnational anonymous egg donation from the perspective of egg donors, focusing on their moral narratives of egg donation. How do they identify themselves as "not-mothers" (Almeling 2011), given gendered social expectations and pressures on women to be "good mothers"?

Kinship and affect: a comparative study of kinning in gay and lesbian families in Brazil and in France

Author: Flavio Tarnovski (Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the social importance of “intention” and “affection” for the creation of kin relations in gay and lesbian families in Brazil and in France. Special attention will be done to the relative importance of the so-called biological, legal and social dimensions of kinship.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted in Brazil and in France between 2002 and 2016, this paper will analyze the process of construction of parental relations and positions in gay and lesbian families. The majority of cases refer to gay and lesbian co-parenting families, characterized by the existence of multiple parents linked to a single child, some of which had been contacted after ten years. Beyond the centrality given to shared substance by the euroamerican representations in the domain of kinship, this paper will analyze the relative importance of the intention to be a parent, of the domesticity and shared affection and of the official status as a support for filiation. The distinction between filiation and parenthood will be highlighted to point out the different consequences of the participation in a parental project before birth and/or of the sharing of everyday experiences with a child. In the context of social debates about new family relationships, the notions of "choice", "intention" and "desire for a child" can be subject to social disputes, especially in the case of gay and lesbian parents. The analysis of empirical situations reveals the complexity of these notions.

Reworking kinship configurations: silence and normality in Indonesian transgender family intimacies

Author: Sylvia Tidey (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on kinship configurations between Indonesian transgender women and their parents to consider how silence and conceptions of normality help those who find themselves in non-heteronormative kinship constructions in the non-West rework the terms of what counts as proper kinship.

Long Abstract

How does having or being a transgender child reshape intergenerational kinship expectations? In this paper I address configurations of transgender and kinship in the non-West by discussing the often fraught relationships between waria (Indonesian transgender women) and their parents. In the past decade "transgender" subject positions have gained increased visibility in LGBT activism, the media, and in academia. Although scholars have paid attention to the construction of non-biological new kinship formations and the importance of the influence of "old" kinship formations on transgender well-being, not much ethnographic attention has been paid to the unfolding of transgender lives in relation to their embeddedness in heteronormative kinship networks - in particular from viewpoints outside of the so-called West. Because of this, I want to attend to the everyday lived experiences of transgender women in the non-West by addressing the precarious parent-waria relationships in Indonesia. Heterosexual marriage and reproduction form prominent sites of proper Indonesian citizenship and moral subjectivity. The most important responsibilities of Indonesian children towards their parents are therefore to get married and to reproduce. Waria fail to meet these responsibilities and thus fail to be proper children, moral subjects, and citizens. Yet, instead of opting out of their kinship ties altogether, some waria and their parents manage to rework the terms that stipulate what counts as proper kinship. How they do this and how ideas on the "normal" and the importance of silence figure in this are central topics of this paper.

"My blood flows through the little veins of my grand-daughters" and "the blood that flows through the veins of the poor and the rich is the same": on political kinship

Author: Andrea Cardarello  email

Short Abstract

In the light of different family configurations, I take new notice of the voices of birth families who lost their children in “irregular” adoptions in Brazil during the 1990s. I conclude that our old concept of kinship still keeps us away from the extremes of biological and cultural determinism.

Long Abstract

It is clear that adoption and kinship studies have become a politicized field recently. In Latin America, it is not difficult to find examples of adoptions made possible not because of the relinquishment of children by poor birth parents, but due to the violation of their rights. Through the perspective of the "partisan use of kinship plasticity" (Fonseca 2011), I take new notice of the voices of birth families who lost their children in "irregular" domestic and international adoptions in Brazil during the 1990s. These voices include those of female domestic workers pressured by their employers to give up their children for adoption if they want to keep their jobs - with the employers acting as intermediaries in the procedures. In the light of the roles of "blood ties" and the circulation of children in these situations, I reconsider theories within the history of the anthropology of kinship and conclude that the our old concept of kinship, which includes both biological and social attributes, still keeps us safely away from the extremes of biological and cultural determinism.

Ruptured relatedness and the lack of family memory: former British child migrants' reflections on fragmented kin relations

Author: Katja Uusihakala (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on kinning and de-kinning in the lives of British child migrants removed from their families and resettled in colonial Rhodesia. Set in a context of a political human experiment, the paper analyzes the temporal unfolding, dissolution, and reshaping of kin relations over time.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the processes of kinning and de-kinning from the perspective advocated by Janet Carsten (2013), namely that anthropologists should pay attention to the temporality and ambivalence of kinship - its "thickening" and "thinning" over time. The case I analyze concerns British child migrants (aged 5-13) who were selected into a migration scheme during 1946-1962 and permanently resettled in colonial Rhodesia, where they were placed into a boarding school/children's home. The scheme explicitly combined physical and social mobility: removed from their families and resettled in an institution, the children were expected, through first-class education, to rise to privileged positions, thus maintaining the racially segregated colonial hierarchy. Building on ethnographic research with former child migrants, the paper addresses the processes of kinship in a situation where family and kin relations are ruptured or altogether lost, and where the children grow up with very limited or fragile family memory. In such lives, I suggest, both kinship and memory become significant in their absence. While Fonseca (2011) analyzes the de-kinning of adoptive birth-mothers institutionally written out of their children's lives, my analysis focuses on de-kinning from the perspective of child migrants, from whose lives their parents gradually become further and further removed. Considering the temporal unfolding of the parent-child relationship and the thinning (and occasional reconciliation) of relatedness in a context of a colonial, political human experiment, the paper takes part in such examinations of kinship, where the emphasis is on its ambivalence, dissolution and reshaping over time.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.